Activation of lymphocytes induces blastogenesis and cell division which is accompanied by membrane lipid metabolism such as increased fatty acid turnover. To date little is known about the enzymatic mechanism(s) regulating this process. Release of fatty acids such as arachidonic acid requires sn-2-deacylation catalyzed by a class of enzymes known as phospholipases A(2) (PLA(2), EC ). Herein, we confirm that human peripheral blood B or T lymphocytes (PBL) do not possess measurable levels of 85-kDa PLA(2) as assessed by Western immunoblot. Low levels of 14-kDa PLA(2) protein and activity were detectable in the particulate fraction of PBL and Jurkat cells. Western immunoblot analysis indicates that PBLs possess the calcium-independent PLA(2) (iPLA(2)) protein. Calcium-independent sn-2-acylhydrolytic activity was measurable in PBL cytosols and could be inhibited by the selective iPLA(2) inhibitor bromoenol lactone. Mitogen activation of PBLs resulted in maintenance of activity levels which remained constant over 72 h suggesting an important role for iPLA(2) in this proliferative process. Indeed, evaluation of iPLA(2) activity in cell cycle-arrested Jurkat T cell fractions revealed the highest iPLA(2) levels occurring at the G(2)/M phase. Addition of the iPLA(2) inhibitors, bromoenol lactone, or arachidonyl trifluoromethyl ketone (AAOCF(3)), inhibited both mitogen-induced PBL as well as Jurkat T cell proliferation. Moreover, specific depletion of iPLA(2) protein by antisense treatment also resulted in marked suppression of cell division. Inhibition of Jurkat cell proliferation was not associated with arrest at a particular phase of the cell cycle nor was it associated with apoptosis as assessed by flow cytometry. These findings provide the first evidence that iPLA(2) plays a key role in the lymphocyte proliferative response.